What’s Next?

By the time I landed back in Tel Aviv, the northern part of Israel was preparing for war. Our government had been warning us for weeks, but Tuesday night, Iran finally launched their much anticipated first strike. In what can only be seen as the opening chapter in a new Middle East war, the Iranian Republican Guards approved a 20-missile salvo from bases in Syria into Israel. Luckily for us, and is typical of our adversaries, they have terrible aim. 16 missiles landed WITHIN Syria, and the four remaining were shot down by Israel’s iron dome. But as they say, shots fired…

Well it didn’t take long. Israel launched one of the biggest counter attacks in our history. 28 fighter planes with multiple rockets, and our tactical surface-to-surface missiles took off. Within minutes, Iranian infrastructure within Syria, something they’ve spent years building (and legitimized under Obama) was destroyed in a strike praised by many Western countries. To put this in perspective, Bahrain, a country with no diplomatic relations with Israel congratulated us and affirmed our right to defend ourself. For the first time, but not the last as it pertains to Iran, the wider Muslim world and Gulf countries are aligned, vocally with Israel. To complete the circle, the IAF also knocked out Syrian radar stations and air-defense positions. Long story short, we rocked them.

The Middle East has always been a “middle ground” for the world’s superpowers. It was like that in the Cold War, and it’s like that now. Israel has obvious US backing while Syria has Russian backing. That story fits the narrative we’ve known forever, except now it’s changed. Netanyahu received a beautiful state welcome in Moscow less than 24 hours before Israel decimated Iranian bases in Syria. And this comes after years of IAF sorties aimed at Syria, while Russia ostensibly defends Syria’s skies.
The only real question is what is the next chapter in this story. President Trump fulfilled his promise to withdraw from the (horrible) Iran nuclear deal. Iran shot at Israel. We hit them back. Hard. What will happen next? There are really only 3 possibilities.

It is the world’s wish that facing strict US sanctions again, strapped for cash, unable to trade oil, and with unemployment close to 15%, the Iranian clerics would forgo their nuclear ambitions, reach a REAL deal with the US and the world, to that aim, and give up their pursuit of a bomb. This would definitely appease the moderates in Tehran who see more benefit in getting money within the country than funneling it to the world’s terror organizations. There is not a rational person in the world who does not want this scenario. But is it likely?

The second, perhaps middle option is that Iran continues to try and show it wants it’s cake and to eat it too. It will claim it is still party to the deal, keeping its nuclear program within peaceful limits, close enough to break out time, and see what the US does, only to break out to a bomb when the deal expires, or before. Theoretically, the US hasn’t taken away Iran’s ability to trade in dollars yet, so oil can still be sold and Iran can still trade on the world market. Maybe Iran will continue to keep the lid on Hezbollah, and not attack Israel again. This wouldn’t be a bad option, just more of kicking the can down the road.

The third, and I fear most likely option is terrifying. Iran, backed into a corner. Utterly humiliated by Mossad a few weeks ago, Israel constantly revealing we’re a step ahead of them in intelligence circles, and decimating their Syrian bases, Iran is dangerous. Israel has Russia’s blessing (or more accurately, Israel doesn’t not have Russia’s blessing) to own Syria’s skies and we have proven we will use it to enforce our red lines. Israel, unlike the US under Obama, has decided that a skirmish now is better than a major war in a few years. That said, Iran has a government built on an idea that they are God’s representatives on earth, and when they are beaten time and time again by the dreaded Israelis, something has to happen. So the third option is Iran shooting off all its rockets in Syria combined with activating Hezbollah, and possibly even Hamas.

For now, Iran hasn’t unleashed its only potent Middle East weapon, Hezbollah. But what happens when Hezbollah is given the green light to shoot off the 100,000 rockets it has aimed at Israel? Will the IDF fight Iran in Syria AND Hezbollah in Lebanon? That is the issue Israeli leaders face.

First off, Hezbollah is beaten and battered. With thousands of its fighters killed in Syria, Hezbollah today isn’t Hezbollah in 2006. Yes they have gained experience and have an arsenal that many official armies would be envious of, but fighting rebels in Syria is VASTLY different than taking on the IDF inside Lebanon. Show me the last time Syrian rebels were armed with Merkava tanks.

More importantly, Israel today isn’t the Israel of 2006. Netanyahu has shown himself not to be afraid to take the fight to the enemy. This is a Prime Minister who has become synonymous with peace and security on the home front and he will act. Any incursion into Lebanon today won’t be like 2006. It will more resemble 1982 when the IDF bulldozed it’s way through all opposition into Beirut.

Israelis love to ask questions, and many of my friends from the IDF have asked me what I think is next. Well there’s only 3 options, and living here, I know that we are ready for all of them. Either Iran backs down, or it doesn’t. Either way, Israel will continue to survive, thrive, and be the oasis of stability in a region that is descending into chaos.

About the Author
Saul Mangel, a writer based in Netanya, specializes in international relations, the defense industry, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Originally from Philadelphia, Mr. Mangel holds a bachelor's degree in political science. While working at a leading intelligence firm in Israel, Mr. Mangel will continue to contribute to the Times of Israel.
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